People are kind of creatures which like comfort, hence the plethora of products which are supposed to make our lives easier. One of such inventions is Amazon Echo Dot – the smallest and cheapest oficial incarnation of Alexa Amazon’s virtual assistant.
The dot measures 84 mm in diameter and it’s 32 mm high. It’s made of plastic and it’s available in white or black. For those who don’t like that monochromatic colors selection, Amazon offers a variety of skins that you can dress your Dot in.
In the white color version, the top is gray while the black one has the top in graphite and it’s outlined with a ring of RGB LEDs that light up upon user interaction.
Four buttons up top are for muting the microphone, changing volume settings and interacting with current feature – for instance disabling the alarm. Dot’s bottom surface is rubberized so it doesn’t move around when you’re pushing those buttons.
Dot is powered by 5V, 9 Watts power supply that you will find in the box. Power is delivered over your typical micro USB cable. Apart from the power connector, there’s a 3.5 mm jack for analog audio output. The built-in radio operates at 2.4 and 5 GHz ensuring compatibility with pretty much any wireless access point out there. Little Echo enables two-way Bluetooth streaming – it can act as a receiver so you can stream audio from your smartphone or send its audio stream to a Bluetooth receiver.
Alexa is configured using a mobile device. Since the service itself is available only in the UK, US, and Germany, the app is geo-locked and it requires some hassling to get it installed. I should mention that, despite trying numerous combinations of VPNs and what not, I didn’t manage to install the app on my daily driver Android phone… and I don’t trust the APKs served by random websites. It’s much easier to pretend that you’re a resident of some other country if you own an iPhone…
Dot is equipped with a cluster of 7 microphones that do a pretty good job registering your voice as long as it isn’t too loud in the room. It gets a bit more tricky when you’re trying to issue commands when watching TV… Dot has a hard time figuring out what are you trying to say. Speaking of communication, the two currently supported languages are English and German.
The command starts with trigger word which engages voice capturing. The default word is Alexa, but you can change it to something else from the list. In case of devices that natively support Alexa, the trigger word is followed by an expression of your desires ‘Alexa, turn on TV’. If the skill isn’t native, you must include the recipient of the command – ‘Alexa, ask Plex to play Breaking Bad.’ After processing your request, Alexa will let you know how it went with a shorter or longer message. A thing worth mentioning is that the voice processing is handled on the server side, which means that Echo requires constant internet connection. Because of this architecture, it might take a while to see the results of your request. It doesn’t bother me at all when I’m waiting for my Logitech harmony hub to turn on the TV, receiver and cable box… but when you ask to pause or turn the volume up, the delay is a bit annoying.
When it comes to understanding your commands it’s a mixed bag. Most of the time it’s pretty accurate but sometimes it’s way off.
Out of the box, Alexa can do a bunch of things – it can wake you up at a given hour, add a product to your shopping list or will try humor you with a not so funny joke.
What makes Alexa so much useful are third-party skills that can be downloaded and enabled on your Echo series devices. Amazon API enables development of Alexa supported products which are more appealing to customers.
At this very moment, using Alexa in a country that’s not on the list of those officially supported is a little bit limited. For instance, you cannot get traffic information because the configuration form won’t accept your address. Despite such shortcomings, I do enjoy living with Alexa and I’m pretty sure that it will play a major part in my digital empire.